Mitchell in bid to fix Ulster impasse

SENATOR GEORGE Mitchell today begins the daunting task of brokering a deal between the Ulster Unionists and Sinn Fein, a goal which has eluded all sides and brought the peace process to a virtual standstill over the past year.

He will begin work in Belfast after a weekend in which tough statements from both Unionists and republicans added to what the senator once described as their "vast inventories of historical recrimination".

Expectations of an early breakthrough, or indeed any breakthrough at all, are conspicuously low both in political circles and among the public. The intense but abortive effort to find agreement in July has created an unpromising atmosphere for the new talks.

The senator, who has been involved in Northern Ireland affairs since 1994, is expected to shuttle between the various parties over the next few days. Both David Trimble's Ulster Unionists and Sinn Fein will take part in a review of the Good Friday agreement but, in a reflection of the political chill, the unionists say they will not talk directly to Sinn Fein.

Everyone expects the process to be interrupted on Thursday when Chris Patten's report on the future policing of Northern Ireland is published. Whatever its contents, its appearance is bound to lead to heated controversy.

Mr Trimble yesterday attacked both Sinn Fein and Tony Blair, referring to republicans as "those thugs" and accusing the government of appeasing evil and turning a blind eye to violence.

Sinn Fein chairman Mitchel McLaughlin in turn accused Mr Trimble's party of toughening its position, saying: "The portents for the immediate scenario of the review are negative because of the regression of the Unionist party to a harder and harder position."

There was an emotional appeal for progress from the Catholic Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr Patrick Walsh, at the west Belfast funeral of one of "the disappeared", whose body was recently recovered after 21 years. Dr Walsh said: "Let us not be treated next week to further fatuous posturing or empty point-scoring. There is far too much at stake for that - lives are at stake. It is time for the exercise of responsibility, for the exercise of leadership with courage and integrity."

Seamus Mallon of the SDLP, who in July resigned as Mr Trimble's deputy, said the talks should "go for broke", adding: "There's no point in recrimination, there's no point in each party trying to put the other in the dock. We were within touching distance of getting this executive set up."

Senator Mitchell is under no illusions about the task facing him this morning, as he tries to find grounds for accommodation where all others have so far failed. In his five years of involvement in Northern Ireland he has often commented on the welcome he has received. But he has also remarked: "People here are very nice and friendly - they're just not friendly to each other."

The book he wrote about his experiences in Belfast makes it clear that, despite his talent for exuding apparently infinite tolerance and patience, he found the months of procedural wrangling and filibustering extremely wearying. Because of this, he has already made it clear that he wants the review of the Good Friday agreement to be tightly focused and time- limited. He has the air of a man prepared to spend weeks, but not months, exploring whether a breakthrough is possible.

His job is simple: to broker a deal between Gerry Adams and David Trimble. The other parties involved hardly care what that deal might be - they simply want to see a deal done and a new government established. But achieving that means somehow resolving the conundrum of devolution and de-commissioning, and the order of priority. Tony Blair and others have made several attempts, so far to no avail.

As things stand, Sinn Fein cannot or will not deliver de-commissioning, while the Ulster Unionists will not go into government without it. Each side argues that it has the Good Friday agreement on its side; each also signals that it has gone about as far as its less flexible supporters will permit.

The Pieces In The Ulster Jigsaw

Ulster Unionist Party

Probably the most important part of the jigsaw at the moment, but also the most fissionable and unpredictable. The party is divided between those who wish to go along with the peace process and those who believe it is dangerous and should be closed down. David Trimble's strategy as leader has been to talk tough and play it long. As the months have dragged, leading party members have become more restless and undisciplined. His deputy, John Taylor, has said he will not take part in the review.

The republicans

Sinn Fein, led by Gerry Adams, seems as committed as ever to the peace process, but during the summer the IRA killed one man, attempted to run guns from America and continued with "punishment" beatings and exilings. Although there is no appetite for a return to full-scale war, some in the ranks are plainly disillusioned with the process. With much ill-feeling in the air, there are no signs that republicans might soften on de-commissioning.

The loyalist paramilitaries

Still beating and exiling, like the IRA, but again no desire for a return to full-scale conflict. Some elements are heavily into drugs, while others remain committed to politics. No sign of the big groups de-commissioning though, while some smaller outfits are petrol-bombing Catholic homes.

Rev Ian Paisley

His Democratic Unionist party will not be formally going into the review but he will meet Senator Mitchell and will watch closely from the sidelines, the better to denounce any Trimble sell-out. His topping of the European poll was a sign that many Protestants prefer the old ways.

The constitutional nationalists

The Irish government and the SDLP are eager for almost any workable compromise and anxious to set up a partnership government as soon as possible. Seamus Mallon's resignation as deputy first minister, a sign of intense frustration, has increased his stature across all shades of nationalist opinion.

The middle ground

The churches, big business and the community and voluntary sectors all hope that an accommodation will be found, believing that only a cross- community administration can provide the stability needed for economic and social improvement.

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game